City’s biggest jerks have sweet, vanilla memories
Tigers can’t change their spots (or is that leopards and their stripes? Look, I’m not a zoologist), and so I’ll say of John Michaluk: Once a jerk, always a jerk. Whoa. Call off the libel lawyers. He says it of himself. Also of people he calls best friends. “Oh, look,” he says as one comes through the door at Bay City Music Hall over at Leander Boat Club, “guy’s a jerk.”
John, you might recall, played for the Tabbies, 50-year-old vintage, a hardy varietal with robust notes of Grey Cup 1967.
He wasn’t a jerk on the field. Off it? Major yanker, an experienced one who, by ’67, had logged thousands of hours. Nine years of muscle memory, instinct and touch-around-the-tap, banked-up in hands well-practised at the art of pulling malted shakes, ice cream floats, vanilla cokes and other syrup-ed drinks from those shiny chrome gooseneck geysers known as ... soda fountains.
“Iconic” gets so overused. But the soda fountain — OK, let’s call it ice cream-conic — really was emblematic of an era. For a generation or three, in the core of the city, Jumbo Ice Cream was soda parlour central.
How strong was its draw, how pivotal its role as chapel in the parish of social refreshment?
“I was still doing shifts,” says John Michaluk, “almost up to the year we won the Grey Cup.” (Can you imagine Sidney Crosby moonlighting as a barista during a run at Lord Stanley’s pantry?)
A different, bygone world. But one that still turns on an axis of fellowship, memories, “f anf aro- nade” (banter), cold cuts and libations at the biannual “shivoos” (get-togethers) of the Jumbo Jerks. They convene at Bay City Music Hall, on — for no apparent reason — American Thanksgiving and Cinco de Mayo.
The Jumbo Jerks — several had athletic careers — are guys who worked as soda jerks, or hung out at, the now extinct Jumbo Ice Cream Parlor (1936-1968, owned by Don and Evan McMaster), corner King and Victoria.
“Everyone hung around,” says Doug Forsyth.
“After school. After games (Central and Cathedral, for instance). And you had to work fast. Always long lineups.”
His years there were 1953 to 1965. He actually lived over the store. “I had to quit when I got married,” he says. “I loved the job. We’d all still do it if we could.”
Soda jerks (the job was coveted) had to wait and watch and do scut work like dishwashing for months before being entrusted to jockey the fountain levers and work the tapered mixing cups. Some Jumbo Jerks still love doing dishes; brings back memories.
There was an art to it, says John, a touch. “If you pulled forward too f ast, there’d be a spray of gas and water.”
They made things like a Tin Roof, a Barney Google (banana cut into coins, pineapple, etc.), a David Harum (crushed strawberry, etc.).
In an email, John writes: “We could do it all. Serve up ice cream sodas of any flavour; ice cold buttermilk on the hottest summer day with salt on the side; draft coke made from gallon jars of thick syrup; and banana splits by the hundreds on a Sunday after church ... who had it better, eh?”
The soda parlour was social microcosm, with a kind of gemeinschaft all its own. “I met my wife at Jumbo,” says Bob Krouse.
Because parlours were so generally woven into the communal fabric, jerks often became performers after a manner, according to American drive-in, soda-fountain, gas-station culture chronicler Michael Karl Witzel, who called them “freelance linguists.”
Indeed, John embroiders his emails, his writing and his speech with wonderful language like the above quoted “shivoos” and “fanfaronade” and other gems: “quidnuncs,” “cachinnate,” “footle,” “caciques.”
The Jumbo Jerks arose about seven years ago because, says John, “We were getting tired of meeting at Friscolantes (the funeral home).” They started with once a year but the get-togethers proved so popular, drawing as many as 30 or 40, they doubled to twice.
The driving logic, its raison d’être, is an irrefutable truth, says John. “You can’t make old friends.” And such were in force when I visited this May — men like John, Doug, Bob, Lou Loro, Marvin Michaels, Eddie Turek, John Brodnicki, “Dynamite” Dunn, others.
For the ex-footballer ( John also co-owned the Ticats for a time) none of the glory amounts to a fluff of whipped cream stacked up against the deep bonds formed over some carbonated water so long ago and strengthened over a lifetime.
Jumbo Jerks Stephen Lechniak, Ed Turek, Lou Loro, Bob Krouse, Bill Swenor, Marv Michaels, John Michaluk, Doug Forsyth and Ed Dunn.